Orchids in the cloud forest
‘A City in a Garden’ is the Singapore government’s catchcry, and it’s serious. Gardens by the Bay is the headline project, a 121-hectare, three-stage horticultural extravaganza on reclaimed land at the mouth of the Singapore River. It’s not just big, its genuinely exciting. The South Garden is the first stage to open and it features three highlights – two massive biodomes (they are the the largest column-free glasshouses in the southern hemisphere) and a grove of ‘Supertrees’. These creations are 8-15-storey, elegantly-waisted steel constructions that support densely planted panels thick with climbers, orchids, ferns and bromeliads.
The scale of just incredible, and more on those Supertrees soon, but first let me tell you about just one of the biodomes, the Cloud Forest, which you can see beyond the Supertrees in the shot above. The Cloud Forest is kept at a cool and moist 22-25 C to replicate the climate of tropical montane regions. In keeping with the conservation, education and sustainability mantra of the project, the cooling is powered by steam, supplied by burning the endless clippings and trimmings of the relentless tropical growth across this enormous garden.
A blast of cool air, a fine water spray and the thundering of a massive waterfall greet us as soon as we walk in. The falling water mists arching sprays of brilliant white moth orchids planted with black anthirrums. It’s instantly thrilling and the excitement is maintained as wind our way up the ‘mountain’ to the source of the waterfall.
As you might expect of Singapore, many of the treasures packed into the dense planting are orchids. We watched gardeners on cherry pickers attaching them to the trunks of trees and ferns, while a woman with a clipboard supervised, and ensured they were attached not in orderly lines, but in naturalistic groupings like this one.
Other workers were abseiling down the face of the mountain, weeding and removing poorly performing plants on the expanse of dense greenwall planting. The planting features begonia, fern, bromeliad, climbers, orchids, and sub-tropical shrubs like vireya rhododendron, medinilla and fucshia, all grown in pockets of the constantly seeping wall fabric. Weeding attached to ropes – that’s gardening as an extreme sport!
At the peak of the mountain is a pond surrounded by carnivorous pitcher plants. From here there’s a great, if slightly vertiginous, view down to the ground level.
The more you look the more there is to see: this is a really clever combination of great engineering and wonderful horticulture. It was the highlight of our trip to Singapore, the purpose of which was to develop an exciting itinerary for garden-lovers. We think we’ve come up with a beauty. Read all about it here, book here, and join us for some great tropical fun next March!
Photos: Robin Powell